My Challenges with Breastfeeding

by Amy Teng, DO



As an obstetrician I counsel patients daily regarding the challenges of pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding.  As most mothers will acknowledge, the expectations and goals that are set for this time in a woman’s life can be numerous, complicated, and sometimes difficult to achieve.  My goal is to make sure our patients feel prepared, educated, and that they trust in our knowledge and judgment during these important times.  However, sometimes despite the number of books you’ve read or classes you’ve taken, you can’t totally prepare yourself for or fathom what that experience will be like until you journey through it yourself.  I want to share my personal experience with the challenges I faced in this time, and hope that in a way patients can feel easier with some decisions they have made or have yet to make. 


I delivered my first child last year, in July 2016.  Fortunately I had a very easy pregnancy.  I had virtually no morning sickness, my energy level was great, and I was able to work and exercise until the few weeks preceding my due date (Hooray, a few goals were met!)  What was yet to come was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  Breastfeeding.  Many women will say: “Nobody tells you how hard breastfeeding is!”  As one who counseled patients on this issue, I knew how hard breastfeeding was, yet even I was surprised by how much more difficult it turned out to be.  Short of having mastitis, I had practically every other challenge associated with breastfeeding.  My son had latching difficulties in the beginning, which inevitably led to nipple trauma and terrible pain.  He had mild tongue tie which was corrected, yet he still had problems maintaining a deep latch during feedings, and I was in constant pain and discomfort during and after feedings.  It got to a point where I would dread the next nursing session.  As a mother, you want to look forward to that intimate bonding time with your child, a bond that only mothers can have with their babies.  I, on the other hand, was dreading it, fearing the toe-curling pain that felt like daggers stabbing my breasts every time he would latch.  I would tell myself  “It’s not supposed to feel that way.  I must have been doing something wrong!”  Was it me?  Was there something I was missing?  I tried 3 different breast pumps, including a hospital grade pump, with multiple different parts and connectors, hoping that one combination would finally “work.”  I went to physical therapy for recurrent clogged ducts.  It felt like all of my time spent was on “boob care,” as I called it, and I came to a point where I realized that I couldn’t sustain that routine.  I was spending more time stressing and worrying about breastfeeding than I was with my son.  I wanted to be able to enjoy my time with him before I had to return to work, and ultimately that was more important to me than the breastfeeding.  I struggled for 6 weeks.  In the end, I was happy that I was able to breastfeed for those six weeks, and came to terms with the fact that it just didn’t work out this time for us.  The moment I made the decision to wean, I felt a huge stress was lifted.  I was able to fully enjoy my son in the moments of intimacy we had together during the bottle feeds, during the times he communicated with his expressive eyes and smiles.   I had more energy from being able to rest and sleep, which was more energy I could spend with him, reading to him and interacting with him. 


No one can tell you how to be a perfect mother.  In our society there is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on moms.  Pressure to have the perfect pregnancy, the perfect delivery, and the perfect breastfeeding experience.  A lot of groups will sensationalize the experience for specific gains, including financial gains.  Is breastfeeding important?  Of course it is!  It facilitates bonding with your baby and a quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight.  It has proven short-term medical benefits, and it’s cheaper.  However, in certain situations (for example, if the baby is not getting enough milk and could be dehydrated) it is more important to feed the baby than to feed breast milk.  As obstetricians we are all proponents of breastfeeding.  It is also our responsibility to deliver the most accurate and most up to date information regarding the medical benefits of breastfeeding to our patients.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding, with their most recent policy statement published in 2012.  So should we feel so guilty if we aren’t able to achieve this goal?  What does the science tell us?  Studies show that a group of breastfed infants has an 8% decrease in colds and diarrhea in the first year, which for the average infant is possibly 1 fewer episode of each per year.  The most comprehensive study of breastfeeding benefits thus far published in 2014 looked within families by comparing siblings who were fed differently, which eliminated many of the confounding factors present in previous studies.   They found no significant difference between breastfed and bottle-fed children with regards to rates of obesity, asthma, test scoring, and intelligence scales.  The World Health Organization in 2013 published a systematic review that did not show any evidence of long-term health benefits of breastfeeding, including obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, and intellectual performance. 


Many people have the misconception that breastfeeding is easy; that it just happens like second nature to moms and babies.  The reality is breastfeeding is extremely difficult, for various reasons, and mothers shouldn’t punish themselves or feel guilty if their expectations are not met.  Every woman has a unique experience with pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.  I can say that I was disappointed it didn’t work out better for us, but any breastfeeding is great and I was happy I was able to do it for as long as I did.  My son and I navigated through some tough times together, and it’s an experience I won’t forget.  He is now a healthy 8 months old and is such a happy baby! 


I feel that the whole experience has made be a better person and a better doctor.  It has allowed me to pass on what I feel is important knowledge to my patients.  That includes 1) be as prepared as you can, 2) try your best, 3) ask for help when you need it, and 4) recognize your limits and prioritize what is most important.  In the end, the amount of love you have for your baby is what makes you a good mom.  


El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems.   Drs. Amy TengErika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecgologic Surgery.   Dr. Erika Balassiano is also a graduate of the Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship at Stanford University, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.


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